NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The unidentified remains of those killed at in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were returned to the World Trade Center site, in a solemn procession on a foggy Saturday morning.
It was a silent procession. As CBS 2’s Diane Macedo reported, the gray skies Saturday seemed fitting for the solemn occasion.
The remains were moved from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Manhattan’s East Side at dawn, accompanied by a police motorcade and several police and fire department vehicles with lights flashing but no sirens.
The remains were placed 70 feet below ground. It will be the final resting place for some, and for others a temporarily place to rest until the New York City Medical Examiner’s office can make a positive identification, CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson reported.
“It was a very somber, respectful sight,” said Eileen Walsh, whose son, firefighter Michael E. Brennan, was killed in the attacks. “We were standing there waiting, and there were, three coffins, I’d say, covered with flags.”
Walsh was one of a few dozen family members who gathered for the five-mile procession. Construction workers near the World Trade Center paused and took notice, and about 10 firefighters stood in the cool breeze saluting the vehicles as they arrived.
“It just brought back so many flooded memories of the hope we had years ago of them coming out walking out,” she said.
The remains will be transferred to an underground repository in the same building as the National September 11 Memorial Museum.
Charles Wolf’s wife, Katherine Wolf, was an executive assistant with Marsh & McLennan Companies, which held offices on the eighth floor of the North Tower. Her remains were never recovered.
“It’s open only to family members who received a special ID card last week from the Medical Examiner’s office,” he said.
And like many decisions involving the site of the nation’s deadliest terrorist attack, the disposition of the unidentified remains has been contentious.
“I don’t know how much of him is down here; if it’s one little inch, I want it treated respectfully,” said Sallie Regenhard. “I want it above ground. I don’t want it to be part of a museum. I don’t want it to be part of a freak show.”
Regenhard lost her son, also a firefighter, and said that she did not want his remains stored in the museum.
“Against our wishes and put him in the basement of their admission charging museum,” she said.
Jim McCaffery lost his brother-in-law, FDNY Battalion Chief Orio Palmer. He died on the 78th floor of the South Tower.
“We would like to see the remains moved above ground to a repository akin to the tomb of the unknowns,” McCaffery said.
Rosemary Cain, the mother of 9/11 victim and firefighter George Cain, said she did not feel like her family had any say in the decision.
“We were never given consultation,” Cain said. “I’m his mother. Nobody said to me, ‘Do you give your blessing to our plans?’ That’s all we asked for.”
Other family members support the plans, which have been in the works for years. Lisa Vukaj, who lost her 26-year-old brother, said the new home for the remains is “a fitting place until technology advances” and new techniques are available to identify their loved ones.
Vukaj, who got emotional as the caskets containing the remains were taken inside the center, said she didn’t like that some victims’ relatives turned what should have been a solemn event into “a political thing.”
“Just come in, pay your respects, be here, have your emotions and don’t make it political,” she said.
Monika Iken-Murphy is on the board of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and felt the remains of her husband, Michael, are back where they belong.
“This is where they all took their last breath; their last step on that day, and I feel they are together at home,” Iken-Murphy said. “It is a really momentous occasion for me, because I have been doing this for the past 13 years, almost, and since 2002, we always said we wanted them to be interred at the final resting place.”
Supporters also said the current location is needed to maintain the possibility of identifying those remains in the future.
“The medical examiner still has access to them so they can still continue to test for them to see if they can find out as DNA. Just two weeks ago, they identified someone,” Wolf said. “So you lock it up in a mausoleum upstairs, you cut off anybody else from ever having any chance.”
The repository will be available for family visits but will be overseen by the medical examiner. Officials hope that improvements in technology will eventually lead to the identification of the 7,930 fragmentary remains.
The death toll stemming from the attacks at the World Trade Center stands at 2,753. Of those, 1,115, or 41 percent, have not been identified.
The museum opens to the victims’ families on Thursday, and President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama will be in attendance as a six-day dedication period begins. The museum opens to the public on May 21.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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